Water, water everywhere

Blue gold?

Journalist (and regular contributor to Midwest Energy News) Dan Haugen directed my attention to an interesting column by Eric Reguly in the Toronto Globe and Mail on water scarcity and industrial growth.

In a nutshell, while China and other Asian countries provide cheap labor, they’re limited by increasing demand on limited water resources.

Anyone who watches China closely cites water scarcity as the biggest threat to the country’s growth. In a recent presentation to clients, Michael Komesaroff of Urandaline Investments, an Australian consulting firm that specializes in capital-intensive industries, especially Chinese ones, called water “the one issue with the potential to stop China’s growth and rewrite the China Story.” Note the word “stop,” not “slow.”

As water becomes more scarce, Reguly argues, opportunities for industrial expansion will open up in countries like Canada. It’s already making things like incredibly water-intensive oil sands extraction practical in places where it otherwise may not.

Suncor, the oil sands giant, is one of the world’s most water-intensive companies, as measured by direct water withdrawal per $1 million in revenue. Teck Resources is another hog. But water scarcity isn’t an existential risk for companies here, although many are trying to reduce their water footprints. If the geological gods had plunked the oil sands in the western United States instead of Western Canada, they probably wouldn’t have been developed.

But you know who else has a lot of water? The upper Midwest. All the more reason, as Forbes writer Chris Turner pointed out last week, why cleantech manufacturing will be vital for the region’s economic future.

Photo by Lisa A. Lehmann via Creative Commons

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